Real Soundtracks for Fake Games

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Video game soundtracks never fail to amaze me with how varied they’ve been able to become in recent years. Touching on everything from heavy synth chords, ominous symphonic choirs, powerful classical tones, and urgent electronic suites, the diversity in sound is endless. Nonetheless, I had an overly-specific query regarding video game soundtracks: what about soundtracks for fake games? Finding Equip’s Synthetic Core 88 (which I discuss more in detail later) set me off on a bizarre quest to find concept albums themed around this idea. This was harder to find than expected, but I figured this idea was too cool to not discuss anyway, so I’ll go on what I was able to find.

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The first album I’ll showcase is bird world by Leon Chang. While I mostly associate Chang with his wonderful regular twitter posts reminding everyone to play Star Ocean: The Second Story, his music work is a different (but neat) creature of the feathered variety.
bird world is the soundtrack to a cute tiny bird-themed RPG about an avian fellow named Leon (ha) who sets out on an adventure after meeting with a mysterious, amnesiac stranger. Chang even went as far as to include a little illustrated PDF with the album download that harkens back to the good old days of video games including physical manuals with little blurbs about the settings and characters. He even includes gameplay tips and level-up skills for the characters! That’s dedication, folks!
leonThe best way to describe bird world is damn catchy. bird world feels like an unrestrained love letter to thematic video game sub-levels with a heavy smattering of indulgent sampling ranging from Ape Escape monkey sneezing to the Metal Gear alert sound. The result is a varied, upbeat mix of music that lands straight into the realm of embodying the game’s worlds themselves. Off the bat, the relaxing main menu theme and quirky welcome to bird world song quickly plop you into the grasp of the ‘game’, right after you’ve torn off the plastic wrap. From the tropical and floaty notes of lychee beach to the mellow and cozy side of winter melon valley, Chang does an exceptional job giving each track a specific flair. My personal favorite track, noodle cave, blankets you in fast-paced beats that get you pumped as the end of the ‘game’ approaches.

My only complaint with bird world is the soundtrack’s overall form, which, while fun and amazing to listen to, doesn’t quite feel like an actual soundtrack. If anything, bird world feels like a remixed version of an already existing soundtrack, though I’m not sure if Chang was trying to evoke a specific era of video games or a console. By no means is this a bad thing, and I don’t think Chang was purposely trying to evoke an older-sounding soundtrack by using something like older recording technology or chip-tune music. Just be aware that bird world is its own distinctive beast that tries more to evoke the general structure of a video game soundtrack.

The next album of interest is Synthetic Core 88 by Equip. I found this piece through Yetee thanks to Drew Wise’s eye-catching cover art for the vinyl and cassettes, which are stylized after Japanese soundtrack packaging and even include fake screencaps for the ‘game’. Like bird world, Synthetic Core 88 is conceptualized as an RPG soundtrack, this time centered around a girl named Flora getting lost in a dreary post-apocalyptic future world and fighting for survival. Synthetic Core 88 takes heavy cues from SNES-era games, with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI being obvious influences, yet Equip manages to give the soundtrack a distinctive, smooth flair.
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As Equip states on their bandcamp page, vaporwave and new age sounds are a major influential factor within their work, and it shows. While Synthetic Core 88 embodies a lot of respect towards old-school RPG’s, there’s still a sense of unique mellowness that Equip manages to incorporate in many of the tracks, such as in ‘New GAIA’ and ‘Flora Awakens’. Even the more upbeat tracks such as ‘Wholehearted Elation’ and ‘SILPH6’ evoke feelings of urgency mixed with a certain distance. There’s a strong sense of dreaminess tinged with nostalgia that permeates many of the tracks.

While I wish it was easier to find more ‘fake videogame soundtrack’ concept albums, I was pleased with both bird world and Synthetic Core 88. Both albums’ artists manage to take the concepts in different directions, resulting in some cool and catchy musical work that harken back to various flavors of video game sounds. It’s definitely a neat concept that I’d love to see grow as time goes on.

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An Intermediate Guide to Visual Novels

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When you get past the entry point of visual novels through one way or another (such as using Francisco’s helpful guide here), it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed by many of the available games now legally available for English-readers. Nonetheless if you prefer a “pure” visual novel experience or want to try out something different, this guide covers a variety of titles to help you branch out into some fresh titles.

(Note: This article summarizes many of the visual novels featured in our Not ALL H-Games! panel. This article will also be amended in the future as we add and remove different games to our panel line-up.)

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Final Fantasy VIII: The Bizarrely Effective Adolescent Narrative Nobody Expected

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Final Fantasy VIII is a strange and somewhat frustrating game for me to discuss in nearly any context because the game inexplicably embodies elements that I adore and despise in many Final Fantasy titles, as well as video games as a whole. In VIII‘s case, the otherwise interesting sci-fi elements and world building are unfortunately undercut by the game’s messy story, bizarre plot reveals and hilariously unbalanced stat modifying system. Nonetheless, I feel that Final Fantasy VIII manages to succeed at telling a story about adolescent conflict present within a specific setting, and the reasonable problems that arise as a result. Furthermore, I also think this interpretation of an adolescent-focused story has the potential to be utilized in plenty of other stories. Please note this article will spoil major story elements in Final Fantasy VIII.

A major element present within Final Fantasy VIII‘s world building is the military academies known as Gardens, which train young individuals to become members of SeeD, an elite mercenary group. While the SeeD members are usually hired to provide military support or perform covert missions, it is revealed later in the story that the SeeD’s primary purpose is to defeat evil Sorceresses, human women who possess powerful magic capabilities. For the most part, the Gardens and the SeeDs commandeer a specific level of respect within VIII‘s setting (though appropriately, certain NPC’s express annoyance at the overt military presence in certain cities), but as a result nobody seems to question the fact that SeeD members are explicitly required to apply between the ages of 15 and 19.

While most games focused on a “teens in the military” type of story would probably not care to explore the obvious issues of having adolescents in this setting, Final Fantasy VIII does the opposite; VIII highlights some of the issues that would logically come from using teenage soldiers in such a world, but does so in an indirect way.

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IA/VT Colorful review: Black and White and Pink All Over

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Riding off the tailcoats of Francisco’s recent article, one of the more import-friendly genres for curious gaijin is rhythm games. There are the occasional titles that do require knowledge of Japanese, like Uta Kumi 575, but most can be played easily enough after you’ve learned to fumble through menus. On this note, I decided to take my first plunge into import gaming with IA/VT Colorful.

IA/VT Colorful was released in 2015 for the PS Vita after experiencing delays for nearly a year. The game was directed by Kenichiro Takaki, best known for directing the Senran Kagura titles, and published by Marvelous. As the title suggests, the game’s songs were composed using 1st Place Co.’s Vocaloid IA, whose voicebank is provided by Japanese singer Lia.

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SeleP could make a song about a yandere knitting club & I’d probably still love it.

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Contact review: Ground Control to Major Terry

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My personal experience with RPGs isn’t a particularly complicated history. It started when I played Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the Game Boy Color in elementary school. At the time, I was pretty clueless about how exactly the game worked, which unintentionally made the game harder as a result, but I wasn’t deterred away from the genre. I’ve indulged in many different RPG titles since then and I’ve found it interesting how certain games manage to keep their mechanics distinctive. For example, both Dragon Quest VI and Final Fantasy VI have the core of turn-based RPGs, but manage to play out in completely different ways. Final Fantasy VI emphasizes using magic and characters’ special abilities in fights while Dragon Quest VI encourages players to keep a balanced party with the usage of job classes. On this topic of game mechanics, I took a look at Contact, a lesser-known RPG awash in its own variety of mechanics.

Contact was developed by Grasshopper Manufactures, best known for their action titles such as No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned and Killer is Dead, for the Nintendo DS in 2006.  However, Contact was not directed by Grasshopper Manufacture’s iconic CEO Goichi Suda (aka Suda51) but instead directed by Akira Ueda, who had previously worked on games such as Secret of Mana and Shining Soul.

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Not like you’re gonna give me another choice…

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Fate/Extra review: Absolute Destiny Apocalypse

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Fate/stay night and its associated franchise seem to be pretty iconic among anime and Japanese video game fans. I’ve known about the series for quite some time, but didn’t engage with it until late 2011, when I watched the godawful 2006 anime adaptation. My interest in Fate waned for some time after until I watched the Fate/Zero anime adaptation, which rekindled my attention to the series. A year later, I noticed that fellow writer Franklin Raines had gotten his hands on a copy of the PSP game Fate/Extra; he expressed little interest in playing it at the time, but allowed me to borrow it in his stead. I was intrigued by this ditty of a PSP game, but how did it unfold in the end? We’ll see.

Fate/Extra was developed by Type-Moon and Imageepoch, and was originally released in North America in late 2011. Type-Moon is known for the visual novels and games they produce, including Tsukihime and Melty Blood. Imageepoch developed several RPG series since 2005, such as Luminous Arc and 7th Dragon, before filing for bankruptcy earlier this year.

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…isn’t that what I’ve already been doing, though?

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Hateful Days Pair Review: It’s Such a Strong Word

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I have a system when it comes to playing video games in my personal backlog wherein I break up playing long games with shorter games. This system helps me to recover from potential burnout after playing lengthy games, and lets me pace myself. After recently finishing two Ace Attorney games back-to-back, I was in desperate need for a short “buffer” game, so I could later transition to something else. Luckily, fortune smiled upon me, and Steam  put the Hateful Days pair of games on sale. Were the games actually as good I hoped? Today, we’re going to find out.

The Hateful Days pair of games were written and developed from 2012 to 2013 by Christine Love, an indie developer from Canada. Love has created multiple visual novel games since 2007, including Digital: A Love Story (which is considered a spiritual predecessor to the Hateful Days games), don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story, and her (as of this writing) currently in-progress work Ladykiller in Love.

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By ‘assistance’ she means giving you the archive files to actually read. That’s really it.

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